61 days until England open their Euro 2012 campaign against France and there is yet no word on who will be leading the Three Lions on their excursion to Poland and the Ukraine. With no manager in the dugout following the departure of Fabio Capello and Stuart Pearce taking care of the scouting due diligence, preparations for the tournament are currently shrouded in mystery. One of the burning issues facing Pearce, should the FA hand him the reins, is to decide upon a squad that will undoubtedly see Wayne Rooney’s name scribbled under in the forwards section despite him missing the first two Group D games due to suspension.
Who will spearhead the England attack at the Euro’s is open to debate. The usual discourse over who should lead the line has began to intensify as the big kick off draws ever closer and the leading candidates step up their games in the hope of earning a seat on the plane. It’s an unenviable task that rest on Pearce’s shoulders.
Aston Villa striker Darren Bent professed his hopes of being the Three Lions’ central striker last week despite being ruled out for the rest of the season with an ankle ligament injury. The 28-year-old, who hasn’t played a Premier League game since mid-February, was Capello’s first choice for much of 2011 scoring three goals in six appearances. But his chances of being selected are looking slim and Rooney absent for the first two games there is a frightening lack of experienced strikers available to England.
The lone front man role can be an intimidating prospect for any uncapped or inexperienced forward especially with Pearce likely to set out his tactical stall in a similar to that of his Italian predecessor.
The last two decades have seen the national side adopt a conventional 4-4-2 faltering at every major international tournament they progressed to. Capello moved to break the mould introducing the 4-3-2-1 model with the emphasis on getting the ball out wide to the wingers whilst also having the option of playing through the middle to the lone striker. It was a formation that carried England through a successful qualifying campaign albeit with Rooney and Bent in tow. Both proved to be ideal for the system when pressed into action.
With the former absent from England’s opening two group games the onus will fall onto the next generation of forwards currently making their transition into the squad. However, despite the excitement over Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck, there is a cause for concern as to whether they have it in them to shoulder the attacking burden at a major international tournament.
For a vast majority of the season both players have operated away from the central striking position for their respective clubs. At Manchester United Welbeck has often been asked to drop deeper in to hole behind Rooney and Javier Hernandez or shift into a wider role similar to the one he took up whilst on loan at Sunderland in the previous campaign. Similarly, Sturridge has made Chelsea’s right hand side his own with a series of impressive displays despite stating his desire to play through the centre – something that has been ignored by Andre Villas-Boas and Stamford Bridge predecessor Roberto Di Matteo.
The first two games are crucial for England and ultimately provide a gauge on how they’ll fare in Poland and Ukraine. Starting with Sturridge or Welbeck whilst Rooney serves his suspension would be a risk I’m sure Pearce would be unwilling to take.
But who else could he possibly turn too? Peter Crouch has scored goals for Stoke this season and his strength in the air and hold up play could be a useful tool. However there would be some apprehension towards whether he could cut it at a major tournament following his underwhelming performances at the 2006 World Cup. There’s also Grant Holt and Danny Graham who have made the step up from Championship to Premier League look easy with Norwich and Swansea respectively. Holt, in particular, has shone during his first ever top-flight campaign scoring 15 goals for the Canaries.
There have been a raft of calls petitioning for the 30-year-old to be handed a chance to prove his international credentials. Afterall he’s second only to Rooney in terms of the highest of scoring Englishman this season. Despite his exploits in front of goal there is the feeling that international football would prove too big of a step as it would for Graham and the recently capped Fraizer Campbell.
Not disparaging against any of the players mentioned above but the lack of striking talent at Pearce’s disposal is quite alarming. Aside from Bent and Rooney I’m struggling to conjure a player that could possibly fill the boots of either player at Euro 2012. Andy Carroll has gone off the boil at Liverpool whilst Bobby Zamora is floundering at QPR. Jermain Defoe remains an option despite a frustrating year at Tottenham that has seen him rack up a handful of starts but still weigh in with 16 goals. Whilst he doesn’t fit the bill of a lone striker his experience and fresh legs from the bench should ensure him a place in the squad.
But where does the lack of frontmen leave England’s prospects in the summer? Without a striker of recognised quality, guiding the Three Lions out of the groups may be a mission too big for Pearce to handle. Welbeck and Sturridge exude promise but their knowledge is lacking when it comes to the international arena. From management to striker, who will spearhead England this summer is anyone’s guess.